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July 25, 2008
By Sarah Green
KHI News Service
July 28, 2008
TOPEKA If Sen. David Wysong has his way, voters will know every incoming legislator"s position on a statewide smoking ban.
The Mission Hills Republican has sponsored and supported bills over the last two years that would ban smoking in all work and public places across Kansas.
Frustrated by the Legislature"s repeated failure to enact a ban, Wysong recently pledged to make the topic a campaign issue for candidates in every legislative district.
Wysong asked news editors to include the question in their traditional questionnaires of local candidates to help pin down their positions.
He"s also recruiting and organizing a team of people willing to attend candidate forums for every district in a year when all House and Senate seats and are up for election.
"I don"t know how successful it"s going to be in the primary, but I think it will gain speed in the general elections," Wysong said. "I"m hoping at least one person in those races will be in favor of (a statewide ban.)"
There"s already a bill drafted and waiting in the wings for the first day of the 2009 session, Wysong said. It is similar to the previously rejected Senate Bill 660 , a relatively exemption-free measure that would have covers all work and public places.
At least 35 states have passed restrictions on smoking in public places. And despite the growing number of Kansas cities enacting their own bans, the issue is not going away at the Statehouse, Wysong said.
"I just got back from Alaska and even they are doing it," he said.
Legislators have struggled over whether to ban indoor smoking or let local governments make the call.
At least 29 Kansas cities have passed local ordinances. Some ban all smoking in public places. Others allow smoking in certain locations, such as bars.
It"s not unusual for a number of cities to pass their own laws before a state legislature acts on indoor smoking, said Jodi Radke, regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
"Typically what happens is that a number of local communities pass their own ordinances, and then it serves as a tipping point," she said. "Depending on the number of cities and the political climate (those cities) provide the momentum for the state legislature to say "we can"t turn our backs on this anymore, we have X percent of our citizens already covered, we should do something at the state level.""
Proponents of a statewide law say it would eliminate the "patchwork" created when each city passes its own ordinance.
Sen. Laura Kelly, D-Topeka, said having more cities with their own ordinances would be more of an incentive for supporters, like herself, to push for a common statewide law.
Kelly, who introduced SB 660, said the bill was crafted with as few exceptions as possible in "direct response" to the hospitality industry, which has been vocal in its fear that a smoking ban would hurt businesses such as bars and restaurants.
"The fact that cities are doing it themselves creates exactly the environment that the business community is not interested in," she said.
Phillip Bradley, executive director of the Kansas Licensed Beverage Association, said a statewide ban could create a consistent climate for all the state"s businesses, but his organization"s members would continue to push for some exemptions.
There are some limited statewide restrictions on smoking in public; for example, in elevators, public and school buses.
"The question entirely depends on what the statewide ban looks like," he said. "I"ve been willing to work with people on the expansion of the state"s current smoking ban since the beginning. The challenge for us is that those who are working on it don"t want to compromise on anything, and they"re not willing to talk to us."
Bradley pointed to other states that have passed legislation allowing residents to smoke inside certain businesses, including a recent Pennsylvania law that provides exemptions for cigar bars, casinos and tobacco shops.
Such legislation would be amenable to Kansas business owners, he said.
There have been areas where states and businesses have found common ground, Radke said, such as smoking in outdoor seating areas.
Public health officials point to studies, such as the 2006 surgeon general's report , that report any level of secondhand smoke can be dangerous. But there"s not as much definitive research that shows the effect of secondhand smoke in outdoor areas.
"We don"t see any indoor place as a point of compromise," Radke said. "You shouldn"t have to choose between your health and your paycheck."
-Sarah Green is a staff writer for KHI News Service, which specializes in coverage of health issues facing Kansans. She can be reached at
or at 785-233-5443, ext. 118.